(Photo by David Martin)
Trump announced his plans to speak in Richmond about a week out from his June 10th event, giving the left in the city very little time to respond. Setting a promising precedent, organizers from divergent left traditions came together across ideology to plan an emergency response to this white supremacist event. With two days planning, we were able to pull together at least 60 people before leaving Monroe Park around 8 PM. Police initially attempted to confine our march to one lane but marchers refused to be pushed to the side. Marching through residential neighborhoods, the reaction from those on their porches was overwhelmingly supportive.
Initially, there had been some apprehension about the slogan “Fuck Trump”, but our experience at corner stores and bus stop the day before proved that everyone saw this as the perfect expression of our collective outrage. During the march this was no different. People joined us throughout the march and embraced the banner of “Fuck Trump”. As we grew in size, the dominant chant of “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA” echoed off the buildings.
At one point in the march a Black woman who had brought a sign demanding reparations was working hard to start the chant “Black Lives Matter”. It was interesting to me that this chant took so long to catch on and died out so quickly as people returned to chanting “Fuck Trump”. Its clear to me that Trump and his supporters reject the core issues of BLM, and so it was surprising to see the crowd not respond enthusiastically to this chant. While our promotional material and signs centered on the racism of Trump the crowd was less interested in straying from more general anti-Trump slogans.
For a march that saw only two days of planning, our tactical problems were fairly small. When we arrived at the Coliseum, organizers were concerned that the march had been trapped in the designated “free speech zone”, though this proved to be untrue. It was in this zone that the bulk of the night’s confrontation occurred. Police allowed pro-Trump, drunk frat boys to march through the crowd antagonizing it. A scuffle broke out as one of the four pro-Trump bros spit on a protester, but it wasn’t until a young Black man got in the face of one of these fascists that the police decided to intervene. As soon as the altercation involved this Black man, the police lifted the barricade and tried to snatch him from the crowd. The demonstrators were quick to pull him back into the crowd and there were no reports of his arrest. We’re glad you weren’t locked up whoever you are! In this scuffle, protesters unarrested other individuals that the police attempted to snatch as they shoved demonstrators over top of a fallen bike. Interestingly, the only person arrested that night was the pro-Trump man who spit on a protester.
March organizers then took the initiative, rather than confine ourselves to chanting outside the Coliseum, we took back to the streets. We snaked our way through busy areas of the city and received support from the majority of those passing by in cars and on foot. When Trump supporters showed up in small groups they were confronted by the whole march before they fled. A march that stepped off at 8 PM, traveling nearly 2 miles to reach the Coliseum, then carried on through the busy Broad St. area until close to 11PM.
Though physically tired, the people of Richmond were emboldened by the success of the night. Longtime residents of the city expressed to me that they had not experienced a march like this in many years. The march maintained a militant atmosphere throughout, refusing to be restricted by police and never backing down from Trump’s brownshirts. The night ended with high spirits and a strong sense of our collective power.
Importantly, this night also helped to build trust amongst the left here in Richmond. Though our groups may differ on how best to build people’s movements, we had total agreement on the importance of opposing the white supremacist coalition that is the Trump campaign. The march set a solid precedent for future struggle in the streets of Richmond while the organizing process itself helped build relationships that can strengthen our future response to fascism.